New chief of natural gas lobby vows to raise ANGA’s voice on fracking, exports

Expect the America’s Natural Gas Alliance trade group to take a higher profile in national and state debates over hydraulic fracturing and exports, incoming chief Marty Durbin promises.

Durbin, who is leaving his post as executive vice president of government affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, told EnergyGuardian on Tuesday he will bring to ANGA an activist public outreach and lobbying strategy similar to API as the natural gas boom reverberates in Washington and across the states.

“There’s no question we want to make sure we extend our reach beyond the Beltway,” Durbin said in an interview. He said his focus will be on encouraging more natural gas demand and use.

“I do believe we as an organization have got to do a better job, enhance our ability to raise the visibility, not only of the industry and ANGA itself. It’s getting the message out there,” he added.

That message is that more gas drilling and use will bring more economic and environmental benefits in the electricity, transportation and manufacturing sectors and through exports of liquefied gas.

“We’re just at the beginning here,” Durbin said, promising ANGA will target upcoming public forums on liquefied natural gas exports to press for speedier decisions by the Obama administration and to ward off legislative efforts to change the current approval process.

He said member companies are willing to put in the money to back up that message.

“If you don’t see a higher profile out of ANGA, (and) me personally, then I don’t think we’re doing our job. That’s part of what makes a trade association successful — you’ve got to know clearly what it is your mission is and you’ve got to be willing to be out there getting the message across,” Durbin said.

That will involve working not only with Congress and the Obama administration, but with state public utility commissions and natural gas consumers.

He spoke just days before he takes over the presidency of ANGA on May 1. His selection came after the group’s first president, Regina Hopper, left in February to return to litigations communication work.

Durbin moves to ANGA just four years after the group was formed by a group of independent natural gas producers. Among his first jobs will be to reassess ANGA’s lobbying and outreach strategy.

The alliance became well known in energy policy circles during Hopper’s tenure, but Hopper did not seek out the spotlight or become a Washington lobbying heavyweight similar to API President Jack Gerard.

That’s likely to change under Durbin, who has deep ties to Capitol Hill and the energy industry as a former Democratic congressional staffer and nephew to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

He joined API in late 2009 after holding similar positions at the American Chemistry Council and the American Plastics Council.

Durbin has a full plate of Washington issues to address in Congress and with the Obama administration.

He said ANGA and its member companies will engage in the natural gas issues workshops scheduled next month in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

He said it was unclear yet if gas legislation will come from Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., but if that happens, “we certainly want to be part of that discussion and part of that equation.”

He stressed that ANGA will maintain its stance that the Energy Department’s national interest review process of liquefied gas exports is adequate, and that no new legislation is needed now.

Durbin called for faster action by the department, however, to allow U.S. exporters to compete globally.

“If we as a nation don’t move quickly enough we’re going to lose out on much of that global market,” he said.

The alliance also plans to remain involved in the Interior Department’s plans to soon issue fracking regulations for drilling on Bureau of Land Management leases.

He praised the department for listening to the industry’s concerns about duplication of state regulations and potential permit delays, and noted new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s background as a petroleum engineer with experience with fracturing.

“There’s been movement in the direction to provide for more flexibility. We just don’t know yet whether the final product is going to retain that flexibility, all that flexibility, or potentially create some problems for us,” Durbin said.

A longer term issue for ANGA will be the Environmental Protection Agency’s fracturing groundwater impact study.

He said the group has had constructive meetings with EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe, but he remains concerned about the lack of industry representation on the study’s scientific advisory board.

“It’s going to be one of those things we will continue to watch very closely and remain fully engaged, because it could have some significant impact on the industry and on the activity moving forward.”

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